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Technology at the Core of NIH’s Five-Year Plan

December 21, 2015
by Rajiv Leventhal
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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has revealed its strategic plan from next year until 2020, with information technology at the core of many of the plan’s goals.  

Developed after hearing from hundreds of stakeholders and scientific advisers, and in collaboration with leadership and staff of NIH’s Institutes, Centers, and Offices (ICOs), the plan is designed to complement the ICOs’ individual strategic plans that are aligned with their congressionally mandated missions. NIH said that these goals will ensure the agency remains well positioned to capitalize on new opportunities for scientific exploration and address new challenges for human health.

The plan focuses on four essential, interdependent objectives that will help guide NIH’s priorities over the next five years: advance opportunities in biomedical research in fundamental science, treatment and cures, and health promotion and disease prevention; foster innovation by setting NIH priorities to enhance nimbleness, consider burden of disease and value of permanently eradicating a disease, and advance research opportunities presented by rare diseases; enhance scientific stewardship by recruiting and retaining an outstanding biomedical research workforce, enhancing workforce diversity and impact through partnerships, ensuring rigor and reproducibility, optimizing approaches to inform funding decisions, encouraging innovation, and engaging in proactive risk management practices; and excel as a federal science agency by managing for results by developing the “science of science,” balancing outputs with outcomes, conducting workforce analyses, continually reviewing peer review, evaluating steps to enhance rigor and reproducibility, reducing administrative burden, and tracking effectiveness of risk management in decision making.

The plan concludes with a bold vision for NIH, listing some specific achievements and advances that the agency will strive to deliver over the next five years. Some of these aspirations include:

  • Many thousands of cancer patients will experience enhanced survival from application of precision medicine
  • NIH-supported research will develop effective, tailored behavioral and social interventions to promote health and prevent illness in populations that experience health disparities
  • The application of certain mobile health (mHealth) technologies will provide rigorous evidence for their use in enhancing health promotion and disease prevention
  • A wearable biosensor for monitoring blood-alcohol levels in real time will be developed and show efficacy for preventing alcohol-related injury and disease
  • Technologies to reverse paralysis and restore some normal functions will be available to spinal cord injury patients

Over the next five years, NIH leadership will evaluate the agency’s progress in meeting the objectives laid out in the strategic plan, which will be a living document that will be open to refinements throughout its life-cycle. “Scientific and technological breakthroughs that have arisen from NIH-supported research account for many of the gains that the United States has seen in health and longevity,” NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., said in a statement. “But much remains to be done. This strategic plan will guide our efforts to turn scientific discoveries into better health, while upholding our responsibility to be wise stewards of the resources provided by the American people.”

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